At 9.41 am on October 28, the following message popped up on the WhatsApp group of SAAVETX (South Asian American Voter Empowerment) volunteers:
“Y’all, Cook Political Report has Texas as a toss-up. It’s up for grabs...” A link to the report was attached, and it said things democratic voters in Texas hadn’t heard since the state voted for Jimmy Carter as President in 1976, 44 years ago. In every election since, Texas has been a lost cause for democrats. A canvasser in these parts would have as much luck as a beef-seller in Varanasi (he/she would also be taking similar risks).
However, a few unexpected facts have emerged:
--Texas leads the country in early voting, despite serious attempts by its Republican governor to prevent people from casting their ballot. At the time of writing, Texans had already cast over 90 per cent of the total votes cast in 2016, in a state where turnout is notoriously sub-par.
--More than 7 million votes have been cast already. Polls show that of these, approximately 2 in 3 votes are likely democratic. Hillary Clinton received just short of 4 million votes in 2016, losing the state to Trump by about 8,00,000 votes. Going by the projections, Biden is up to Clinton’s number already -- with two days of early voting to go, and election day itself. Between 4 and 5 million more votes will likely be cast, and it appears that Trump has a lot of catching up to do on election day.
A lot has changed in 2020. For two primary reasons: the election of Donald Trump in 2016; and the rapid demographic transformation of Texas’s towns and suburbs.
These changes could have a dramatic impact. If Donald Trump loses Texas, he loses the election. Period. And the shock waves of that loss would be felt for generations.
The math is simple. Had Trump lost Texas in 2016, for instance, he would not have been President.
Texas was never considered a swing state. Its 38 electoral votes (second only to California’s 55) make up the foundations of any Republican Presidency. It’s ‘redness’ has been taken for granted for decades.
Demography and ‘The Donald’ have altered that calculation.
2016 was a watershed election for America, but as one Texas democrat told me, it was a ‘tearshed election’ for her party in the state. Candidates and workers spent days moping over the fact that America had elected a man who was capable of grabbing “py”, money and power with equal impunity. He did not disappoint them.
As they recovered from the shock, Texas democrats realised what they had in the bank, but didn’t bring to the table: a vast, rapidly growing, number of democratic voters who felt their voice meant nothing in Texas -- that the result was a foregone conclusion, and that they would live in compromised happiness ever after.
Sharon Hirsch, who is running for the Texas state house, has lived the feeling and fought it. The last time she ran, she lost by just 391 votes. At the time, she hadn’t realised that there were about 3,000 democrat leaning Desis in her constituency who hadn’t turned up to vote.
For Chanda Parboo, founder of SAAVTX, the tears of the Trump election turned to rage. She realised very quickly, that the Democratic Party in the state had become comfortably numb to the idea of loss. So even as there was a groundswell of support, no calls to action could be heard from the leadership.
Parboo started by calling a meeting of five women. “That swelled to a hundred in to time,” she says. The numbers are now in the thousands. The objective is to make the South Asian community understand that voting -- from local elections upwards -- is the only way to get a seat at the table in America.
“The Howdy Modi event keeps coming up,” says Parboo. Part of what her organisation does is make people in the Indian community understand a photo op benefits those in the picture, not the viewer. It’s a little uphill, but progress has been made.
There’s a greater appreciation that the Indian American community must cast its votes like any other Americans do. That the affairs of the country of their roots -- Kashmir, terrorism, the Trump-Modi bromance and so on -- make less difference to their lives in America than the extent of their medical cover or the redistricting of schools their children attend. “We have plenty of Modi fans who are Biden voters,” says Parboo. The insight is this: being a fan and being a voter requires the employment of different faculties.
Texas has seen a dramatic rise in voter registration (people who intend to vote, not the number who actually do). The state now has 1.9 million more than in 2016. A huge chunk of these voters has migrated from other parts of the country, following jobs, filling up the urban and suburban areas. About one in five among the new arrivals is South Asian.
Their desire to vote has been met with some resistance from Texas’s Republican Governor, a man reputed to have a red neck and a brown nose (a consequence of kneeling behind Trump for four years). Governor Greg Abbot has done his level best to suppress voting. Historically, Republicans benefit from low turnout.
One of the most egregious examples of this was the move to limit ballot drop boxes in the state to just one per county. So Harris County, with 4.1 million people who lean heavily democratic, has just one box where voters can exercise their franchise during before election day. Harris ranks second in the country among counties adding people over the last decade.
From the numbers available so far, however, attempts at voter suppression have only resulted in making people more determined to vote -- they have gone to polling places and voted early in person.
The immediate future of both Trump and the Republican Party is already sealed in Texas’s ballot boxes.